Building A Hot Rod

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In the past year, we’ve seen a new wave of large-sensor camcorders hit the market, which many see as the video industry’s response to the HD-enabled DSLR. The camcorders are compact and address many of the workarounds associated with DSLRs, such as dual-system sound, monitoring, compression, etc. The Panasonic AG-AF100 was the first out of the gate. The compact camcorder captures full HD in the AVCCAM format, and contains a 4/3s sensor and a micro 4/3s mount. At a price point of $4,995, it’s an affordable alternative to a fully outfitted DSLR.

Next came Sony’s PMW-F3, which at $16,800 is targeted more toward pro users (particularly RED ONE users). The camera contains an APS-C sensor, which is roughly the same size as Super 35mm film. Sony is also offering a new set of T 2.0 cinema-style lenses (35mm, 50mm, 85mm) as a camera package for $24,150. What separates this camera from other large-sensor camcorders or DSLRs is that Sony has just made its S-Log output available, which gives you the ability to capture uncompressed RGB 4:4:4 files via dual-link HD-SDI. With S-Log, your F3 is now like working with a much smaller F35. Without S-Log, the standard capture format is XDCAM HD to Sony SxS cards at 35 Mb/s—still a very dependable format.

The Hot Rod PL Tuner-S Kit for the Sony NEX-FS100U.

The third camera, and the one getting perhaps the most attention, is Sony’s NEX-FS100U, which contains the same sensor as the F3, but at a much lower price point—$5,850. The compact camera captures full AVCHD (H.264) to SD or Sony Memory Stick cards, and contains an E mount, which is the same lens mount used on Sony’s new NEX consumer/prosumer line of cameras and camcorders. At the moment, there aren’t a lot of E-mount lenses, but you can use a Sony A-mount adapter to use many of Sony and Zeiss DSLR lenses.

What makes these new camcorders special is that with their large sensors, they can capture cinematic depth of field like high-end 35mm film or digital cameras. But “with great power comes great responsibility,” and working with lenses—achieving critical focus especially—has been the biggest challenge for new filmmakers stepping up from smaller-sized sensors. Cinema-style lenses like the Zeiss CP.2 prime lenses have become popular with the current crop of cameras, with Zeiss building lenses for each individual mount. Another popular prime-lens series are the Cooke Panchro primes, which are priced more toward ownership, but still offer Cooke’s world-renowned quality. A lot of filmmakers have been outfitting the cameras with their own DSLR lenses, although they’ve encountered challenges in working with them on a professional level.

One of the leading pioneers in creating lens accessories has been Hot Rod Cameras, a company whose mission is to build camera and optical accessories to enable cameras to perform at levels beyond the manufacturers’ intentions. HDVP recently spoke with Hot Rod Cameras President and Founder Illya Friedman about working with the cameras, as well as finding the right lens solutions. Friedman is the inventor of the Hot Rod PL, the first commercial device to allow PL-mount cinema lenses on DSLR cameras.

HDVideoPro: What are the major differences between DSLRs and the new large-sensor camcorders?

Illya Friedman: The biggest difference is that the HD camera is designed for shooting full-motion HD and the DSLRs aren’t. The DSLRs will require a variety of workarounds that you’ll need to address before you can work professionally, whereas an HD camera will have a lot of those concerns addressed directly from the manufacturer.